Pac-12 Power Rankings entering Week 3: Contenders impress, depth shines
Well, the Pac-12 isn’t unbeaten anymore, and a couple of its top teams almost went down on Saturday, but what a Saturday it was.
The league now has eight ranked teams — 75% of the conference! — and holds a 20-3 record in nonconference games to begin the season. As much as can be this early in the college football season, Week 2 provided some clarity on who is for real and who isn’t.
Time to update the Power Rankings. Let’s dive in.
12. Arizona State Sun Devils (1-1)
It’ll be important to preach patience with Kenny Dillingham in Year 1. And with Jaden Rashada. It’s early. And there sure are growing pains in Tempe. ASU lost a game at home Saturday night in which the opponent used a three-quarterback system and had 0 rushing yards in the first half. ASU was outscored 17-0 in the second half, a week after it was outscored 14-3 in the second half against Southern Utah. It looks rough right now, but I’m not close to being ready to jump off the Dillingham bandwagon.
11. Stanford Cardinal (1-1, 0-1 Pac-12)
Last week: 11
The Cardinal has a long way to go in its rebuild under Troy Taylor, but getting the roof ripped off your defense by USC won’t exactly be a uniquely Stanford experience this season. That Trojan team looks amazing once again and the Cardinal lost their starting quarterback after a quarter. Still, a 56-10 loss is a pretty low moment for this program. It marked the most points USC had ever scored on Stanford in the 100-plus-year history of the series.
10. Cal Golden Bears (1-1)
Last week: 10
Damn if Cal didn’t make it tough on an SEC team. Sure, that SEC team flew across the country and then sat and waited, but Cal made the Auburn Tigers work for everything in a 14-10 loss Saturday night. Auburn had just 230 yards of offense in the game and four turnovers. Good! But Cal also averaged just 3.5 yards a play itself, went 1-for-4 in the red zone with three missed field goals in a four-point loss, and turned it over three times. Bad.
9. Arizona Wildcats (1-1)
Last week: 7
Arizona’s defense has been impressive through the opening two weeks of the season. The Wildcats turned the football over five times Saturday night against Mississippi State and only gave up 14 points off those giveaways. As Arizona made its comeback in the fourth quarter, MSU had negative rushing yardage in the frame and was outgained 8.8-3.8 on a yards-per-play basis. But we gotta talk about Jayden de Laura. Three interceptions in his first eight pass attempts on the road. Four total in the game, and a role in the fumble. Arizona needs more maturity at the quarterback spot.
8. UCLA Bruins (2-0)
Last week: 6
(We have reached the point in these Power Rankings where every placement from here on out is going to anger someone. Trying to rank the top eight teams in the Pac-12 is nightmare fuel right now. This conference is awesome.)
Hello, Dante Moore. UCLA moves down but only because of what other teams did around them. Moore is the future at quarterback, and coach Chip Kelly finally embraced it. Moore shook off a sluggish start to lead touchdown drives on four of UCLA’s final five possessions of the first half. There’s some serious juice in the UCLA backfield with Moore, Carson Steele, and TJ Harden.
7. Utah Utes (2-0)
Last week: 3
Utah stumbled through three quarters of incoherent quarterback play before eventually deciding to let Nate Johnson try his hand at the position. What came before the 10:01 mark of the fourth quarter on Saturday was disjointed and sloppy. Bryson Barnes missed throws Utah needed him to hit, and Utah used Johnson as a Wildcat quarterback instead of an actual quarterback. Once it let Johnson actually take hold of the position, he completed four of five pass attempts and muscled his way to a 7-yard, game-tying touchdown. Utah’s defense dominated in the second half, but it was pushed around in the first half. I love what this program stands for. But so long as Cameron Rising is unavailable, the Utes are vulnerable.
6. Washington State Cougars (2-0)
Last week: 8
Cameron Ward, folks. He’s legit. Washington State beat Wisconsin 31-22 on Saturday — a second consecutive season with a win over a ranked Badger team — to supply the college football world with one of the best moments of the weekend. Dickert pleading for the Cougs to get their respect as his voice cracked and his program celebrated all around him was the kind of scene that made people fall in love with the sport. The Cougars forced three turnovers and held a fantastic Wisconsin ground game to just 90 yards on 29 attempts. Ward, by the way, had 255 yards of offense and two scores without a turnover.
5. Colorado Buffaloes (2-0)
Last week: 8
Colorado is the hottest team in America. And it’s the most confident team in America. I think that’s worth something. Colorado believes in Deion Sanders, it believes in what Sanders is preaching, and we know Sanders believes without a shadow of a doubt he can win every game his team plays. That kind of belief is powerful in this sport. Colorado just bulldozed a team that, for years, has been missing that belief. It’s no coincidence Nebraska invents new ways to lose crushing football games every week. It doesn’t know how to win. Colorado does. Colorado has won pretty and it has won gritty. Let’s just fast forward to Sept. 23.
4. Oregon Ducks (2-0)
Last week: 2
Oregon escaped with a 38-30 win over Texas Tech. Escaped. The call by the officiating crew on the endzone interception from Bo Nix was a highly questionable call, and it altered the course of the game. Oregon made things happen late, though. Credit the Ducks — specifically Nix, who was rock solid outside of that one play — for finding a way to win on the road in a very challenging environment. But the Week 2 performance leaves me with some questions about the defense.
3. Oregon State Beavers (2-0)
Last week: 4
The Beavers are off to a 2-0 start after smashing UC Davis at home on Saturday, 55-7. In the win, Oregon State scored a 64-yard rushing touchdown, a 65-yard touchdown on punt return, and a 22-yard passing touchdown. The Beavs created two takeaways, produced 12 tackles for loss, and held UC Davis to just 73 rushing yards at 2.8 per carry (adjusted for sacks). This team is awesome.
2. USC Trojans (3-0, 1-0 Pac-12)
Last week: 5
Quarterback Caleb Williams leads the nation in touchdown passes (12) despite handling just 24 offensive possessions so far through three games. USC has scored touchdowns on 18 of those 24 possessions. They have only punted five times and only turned it over once. I cannot justify having the Trojans any lower so long as they’re playing this brand of offensive football. The defense has also stacked weeks — 28 allowed against San Jose State, 14 against Nevada, 10 against Stanford. This is a strong football team because it has an alien playing quarterback. I am keeping in the back of my mind, though, that Nevada is the worst team in the FBS according to FPI.
1. Washington Huskies (2-0)
Last week: 1
Had ’em at No. 1 last week. I’m keeping ’em at No. 1 this week. Michael Penix Jr. is great. Jalen McMillan and Rome Odunze are so great that a couple of drops in a Week 2 contest make headlines. Washington has won nine straight football games dating back to last season, and I think it has a good chance of running that streak to 12 heading into the Oregon game on Oct. 14.